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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Strong Female Characters (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Strong Female Characters
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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How it's being done wrong (so you all can figure out how to do it right):

http://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/618-were-losing-all-our-strong-female-characters-to-tr/

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Denevius
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I write a lot of female characters, so I thought this article would be more intriguing. Actually, though, I'm not entirely sure I get what the writers are arguing. Two points, one from the article, one from a linked article, stand out:

quote:
Too bad the story gives her absolutely nothing to do...But just as it remains frustratingly uncommon for films to pass the simple, low-bar Bechdel Test, it’s still rare to see films in the mainstream action/horror/science-fiction/fantasy realm introduce women with any kind of meaningful strength, or women who go past a few simple stereotypes.

And even when they do, the writers often seem lost after that point.

And two:

quote:
Chuck Wendig argues here that we shouldn’t understand “strong” as meaning, well, “strong”, but rather as something like “well-written”. But I simply don’t think it’s true that the majority of writers or readers are reading the term that way.
Ok, so 'strong', they just mean brute strength, and not much more? Well, it is true that in the movies they mentioned (most of which I haven't seen, but from their descriptions), the women actually aren't the central character.

I eagerly anticipated that lego movie, but only watched the first twenty minutes or so. But the lead character was a guy. The female character seemed like a side character, mostly a love interest, and basically, well, flat. She's a flat character. She won't change from the beginning of the movie to the end (except maybe to fall in love with the lead character, but again, I didn't see the whole movie), but she's not really supposed to change. It's not her story.

Yeah, it's nice when narratives are populated by a lot of round character, but, especially in movies, all you're usually really getting are a bunch of flat characters getting the audience form one plot point to the next.

Trinity in "The Matrix" was the same way, but it *was* Neo's movie, not Trinity's.

I didn't see the "Desolation of Smaug", and I have no idea who Tauriel is. But again, the Hobbit is Bilbo's story. He starts off as a Baggins and ends up a Took.

quote:
So maybe all the questions can boil down to this: Looking at a so-called Strong Female Character, would you—the writer, the director, the actor, the viewer—want to be her? Not want to prove you’re better than her, or to have her praise you or acknowledge your superiority. Action movies are all about wish-fulfillment. Does she fulfill any wishes for herself, rather than for other characters?
This is probably what you should ask of any major character you want to be considered a round character. Do they have agency? Do they do something surprising but consistent in what we've learned from them and about them at the narrative's conclusion?

But ultimately, movies are hard to argue. They aren't character driven, *especially* action movies. They're supposed to be simple, an excuse to eat popcorn and hang out with friends and family. A place to go on the weekend for a date. Most audience members just like the idea, I think, of a girl/woman who can kick butt and still look sexy doing it. Whether or not she's well written is quite low on their list of priorities to enjoying the movie.

If you want round, more complicated characters, male or female, turn to a book. "A Wrinkle in Time", "Hunger Games", "Windup Girl", "Ancillary Justice" (I didn't like that book, but the central female character was both "strong" and complicated).

Don't go to an action movie looking for Shakespeare.

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JSchuler
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quote:
And even when they do, the writers often seem lost after that point. Bringing in a Strong Female Character™ isn’t actually a feminist statement, or an inclusionary statement, or even a basic equality statement, if the character doesn’t have any reason to be in the story except to let filmmakers point at her on the poster and say “See? This film totally respects strong women!”
Why does it have to be a statement at all?
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extrinsic
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Second time ever I've visited an unreadable website, the page content not displayed. Several HTML codes that are not cross application compatible are in the source code. Windows browsers may not display the page content. Speaking of biases.

I read the content from the source code.

Using film examples for illustrating writing principles is problematic. The two forms are too much apart in strengths and shortcomings to overlap for purposes of the argument. Film's audiovisual spectacle strength favors robust external action, which favors Hollywood's "Male Gaze" emphasis. Heterosexual macho male perceptions that objectify persons, not just women, other men, children, events, animals and plants and nature generally.

The "We're losing all our strong female characters to Trinity syndrome" argument also lacks from realization of the subtler and sublime role the "Female Gaze" plays in narrative: film or written word: a woman as object viewing herself objectified, as viewed object of objectification, and viewing her own self-objectification.

Renasissance female nude portraits often realized this triple-bind sight. A female nude reclines on a chaise, frontal nudity, though head turned away and looks into a mirror back at the portrait artist. She sees herself objectified, the portrait artist objectifying her, and her own gaze objectifying her. No wonder men have difficulty understanding women. And no wonder Hollywood can't overcome its Male Gaze bias. Because film objectifies persons generally.

Written word at least generally strives to personify persons.

Beyond flat or round character development, dynamic or static are another character axis. Dynamic characters are transformed by an action, though they resist change or not. Likewise, static characters are not changed by an action, whether or not they resist or welcome transformation.

Tasha Robinson's argument touches on transformation, lack thereof for central female agonists, as a feature that separates the "Strong Female" from--otherwise? She fails to appreciate that the females she cites as examples are transformed by the action, though their influences on other agonists diminish or fall away entirely; in other words, their leading roles are swept away by their transformations, perhaps prematurely and weakly.

Robinson also overlooks that part of the transformation is through the mediation of a male character. She misses that what she's actually disappointed by are that the women's places in the limelight diminish, become overshadowed by male agonists, become secondary to their male agonist champions, and are actualized by that role: the transformation from femme fatale, hooker with a heart of gold, or Amazon warrior princess, for examples, into emotionally bonded, fully actualized woman. From isolated to meaningfully belonging.

A patrynomic sensibility, as much matrynomic too. Robinson wants woman to be both masculine (status competitor) and feminine (community bonder) hero at once, not necessarily mutually exclusive though they often are. They do happen in any given individual concurrently by proportion and circumstance, but not in every individual equally proportioned all the time. However, biological imperatives persuade otherwise; strong female roles favor feminine community bonding over masculine individual status supremacy contests.

Strong female agonists are dynamic and rounded and, more essentially, reflections of real world realities, as much as male agonists. Strong female agonists are more complex for their unique feminine Gaze's subtleties and depths and antagonisms; their complexity makes them more challenging to portray than men, too. Quite simply, women generally live more deeply internal, interior lives than men. No wonder more women read than men, and more men watch film's many entertainment channels more than women.

Interior life and transformation, persistent foreground agonies, these features are at the crux of strong female agonists, no matter whether she's protagonist, deuteragonist, triagonist, antagonist, allied agonist, or self-agonist. Female agonist transformation shortcomings and short-shrifts are common in film, no less common in written word nor for male agonists. Transformation completion could benefit from more emphasis for appeal's sakes.

[ June 17, 2014, 03:52 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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In thinking about all the stories I have written, I can honestly say that my female characters are one, central to the narrative and two, strong--emotionally, psychologically and physically. I don't mean they could go ten rounds with Mohamed Ali but they can, in their own way and with their own incites, 'pound' anyone who messes with them.

I simply could not imagine any woman real or imagined that I would like who is not strong, independent, assertive, responsive, erudite, empathic (to a degree) and sensual. I know that's asking a lot but I keep trying to find her anyway in both my writing and my life. Ah well, c'est le vie.

Phil.

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Owasm
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You can have a strong female character who is not the main character and that's all right. The protagonist makes supporting characters of the rest... even the men. It's just that if the MC is a male, the strong female leads will be supporting cast members.

In Hunger Games, the MC is a female and everyone else is a supporting actor. It's rather simple, really.

I've written both. I have a trilogy where the MC is a woman and the men around her are treated no differently than the kind of Strong Female Lead would be... they serve as window dressing or facilitators for what the MC does.

Perhaps the writer of the article might want more females cast as the main character. That would solve her issues.

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Brooke18
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Very interesting. It points out many things I subconsciously recognized but never delved into. Also, I thought the article's analysis of Valka from How To Train Your Dragon 2 was painfully correct. I noticed that as I watched the movie.

I, personally, thought the article was a good and interesting read.

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Denevius
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For movies, these articles are making decent points. And actually, I think the writers were specifically talking about movies, since they don't mention any books as examples (not that I remember seeing, anyway).

Like I said, though, I think part of the problem is the relatively low expectations people have for film, especially scifi/action/fantasy films. Or if not low expectations, then expectations that don't have much to do with characterization. So having a female character that isn't *just* a damsel in distress, or isn't *just* a male love interest, seems refreshing, even though these characters are usually *just* one thing: physically strong. There's not really much else to them, and showing their physical strength often times seems to be their primary purpose in the movie; before a male character takes the lead.

There are some cool exceptions, though. "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" is probably one of the best depictions of female action heroines in film ever. I can't think of another action movie that was almost solely supported by women and that gave them extremely complicated character arcs and motivations. And in a way it's a typical Asian movie in which, at the end, you're left unsure who was the good "guy" and who was the bad "guy". Jade Fox's bitterness at the role of women in a world that favors men is justified. She had a talent for martial arts, but they wouldn't teach her because she's a woman. The men *would* sleep with her, though, which brings to mind the poem: "What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun./Or fester like a sore--/and then run...Or does it explode." (L. Hughes)

Zen exploded.

I think Westerners do have problems with doing the same type of complicated "tough girl" female role in movies. The Cohen Brothers are herald for their writing skills and artistic filmmaking, but notice the difference in characterization from the female sheriff in "Fargo", to the male sheriff in "No Country For Old Men". In "Faro", the female sheriff is tough at the beginning, and she's tough at the end. She's fun to watch on the screen, but there's no intriguing change in her character.

The male character in "NCOM", though, makes a cathartic change at the end. The French action film, "La Femme Nikitia", is quite good at character development of its female lead.

Maybe it's just Hollywood that tends to suck at female characters in action roles.

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extrinsic
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I generally believe women are under-represented in entertainment media. I believe that's Robinson's actual argument, though she begs the question: circular logic that assumes the conclusion of the argument. Women don't generally play strong and meaningful roles in film is her argument and her conclusion more are wanted.

Where Robinson fails and doesn't realize is the first principle of why film is how it is. Males dominate film industry leadership--studio executives, directors, script writers. Another glass ceiling. Consequently, women and women's entertainment appeals and women's interest areas are under-represented, and generally excluded.

This under-representation begins in society, carries over into writers generally, and, in turn, to script writers, directors, and executives.

Robinson's argument would be better served if instead she wrote about the sexual identity exclusion clash in a way that appealed broadly and deeply to mass audiences. A central female agonist who uses decidely feminine community bonding behaviors to migrate into a conventional, male-dominated culture, for example.

Mariana Guerrero, the journalist in the film adaptation of Man on Fire, Tony Scott director, based on a novel of the same name by A.J. Quinnell, is such a strong woman agonist. Though not the lead, a strong female role, who achieves her ends through a male lead's agency.

A woman's becoming a famous film director would be an ideal narrative of that vein. Still an adventure potential, from how she receives her external life adventures, say a corrupted studio culture with criminal ties, perhaps among a war-torn nation, say active in Syria and working from a shoestring budget about women's roles in a rigidly patriarchal society splintered by civil war. Not through force of will browbeating or force majeure coercions: masculine "persuasions," but through community bonding persuasions, say, how women work together for protection and common good and what bonding influences they may bring to bear.

A counter-agency woman in such a narrative might be a violent, radical, reactionary freedom fighter group leader who acts with more masculine than feminine behaviors. Or Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, etc.

They say the West was won by the six-gun. Women in concert with community bonding strengths tamed the West. Respectable, righteous men using six-guns were their champions. Cooperation, though mediated through men's overt actions, and women's covert actions.

If Robinson wants instead lead women's overt actions, might they then as well be men? Maybe. Maybe not. They'd be playing out men's roles as masculine behaviors, becoming just like men and in competition with men instead of what makes women's roles strong, natural, and appealing: cooperative community bonding.

[ June 26, 2014, 02:40 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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I think the article makes a lot of excellent points. I think the crux of what she is saying is that it isn't enough to make strong, interesting female characters, but the character actually needs to do something relevant to the plot.

The female character doesn't have to be the protagonist to influence the plot. Lord of the Rings was Frodo's story, but Sam and all the hobbits all had their own character arcs and all played key roles in the storyline, as did Aragon.

Hermonie in Harry Potter was an excellent character who always played a major role in Harry's story. Princess Leia is another example. It was Luke's story, but both her and Han were major players who influenced the plot.

Both Leia and Hermonie had their own wants, needs, and motivations outside of the male characters. Even though they were for the most part aligned with Luke and Harry's goals respectively, they actively pursued their own wants and needs.

Now Trinity was a character who was shown in the beginning to be capable, strong, resourceful, and intelligent, but the plot never really made any use of her in a meaningful way. She quickly becomes marginalized in the story to be a love interest and motivation for Neo. Her importance in the story has nothing to do with her talents or abilities or even really who she is. Nor does she actively pursue any goals outside of Neo. She could easily be swapped out for general female, passive, love interest, and the plot would not be altered in any meaningful way. The fact that she is a strong, awesome woman is never shown to be important to the plot.

I think the author of this article is pleased that Hollywood has made some pretty awesome female characters (definitely an improvement to passive damsel in distress types), but now Hollywood writers need to move to the next step where the stories actually do something with those strong female characters. Otherwise characters like Trinity are really not much better than the damsel in distress, a reward or motivator for the hero. Nothing more than a plot device and not a real character.

I know these movies aren't Shakespeare or even at the same caliber of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (love that movie), but why not put a little more thought into your female characters? Why not treat them with the same respect that you would a male character? If you put the time into the characterization of any type of character, you should use that characterization in the plot.

Honestly, it is just lazy writing.

[ June 17, 2014, 11:50 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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extrinsic
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Or trying to do too much in too little real estate.
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Denevius
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quote:
They'd be playing out men's roles as masculine behaviors, becoming just like men and in competition with men instead of what makes women's roles strong, natural, and appealing: cooperative community bonding.
Hollywood has consistently neglected to adapt any works by Octavia Butler, but if they did, the movie would probably fulfill this sentiment. 'The Patternist Series' (especially 'Wildseed'), 'Lilith's Brood', and 'Parable of the Sower' would all make fantastic action movies, and all of her novels star compelling female characters doing basically what you stated, Extrinsic.
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extrinsic
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From what I've read of Octavia Butler, she writes a strong female lead coping with community bonds. Hollywood is handicapped by not understanding how women are different from men in those regards, so they won't risk adapting Butler's works, which they don't understand and have no one in their inner offices to inform them.

I also feel Butler focuses on leads whose crises are incited by external forces: done to, acted upon, victimized at first. Perhaps another criteria for a strong female lead might be self-caused crises, not per se due to romantic desires. Personal wants cause problems instead of external problems cause personal wants.

Women's ambitions in a post demographic transition era need not be purely domestic family life, purely vocational ambitions, and, third, purely intimate relationship ambitions, or blends of them. A fourth ambition area, for example, might be like what I suggested above, a woman who develops a meaningful community network to subversively thwart an oppressive patriarchy's brutal oppressions of a society as a whole. Much of civic volunteer service in the West involves a similar activity. For dramatic effect's appeals, though, put such a woman in harm's problem ways, caused by her ambitions, and satisfied by her, not through men's mediations.

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Grumpy old guy
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What about, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? I've seen the original Swedish film (with subtitles) and the re-make which, as remakes goes, wasn't too bad. Of course, you could argue that the female character in the film is a 'supporting' character, but in the book, she drives the narrative.

Phil.

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Denevius
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As I'm finishing the last book in "The Hunger Games", something else has occurred to me that writers, of books, television, and movies, should try to avoid as they create more complicated central female characters.

First, I'll say that this may be a SPOILER, so if you're interested in reading "Hunger Games", you might want to stop here.

I like what Suzanne Collins did with Katniss, the main character (though, like most books, I enjoyed her character, and the narrative, more for the first novel, and feel that the writing goes downhill in the last two books).

However, one thing that tends to happen with "strong female characters", is that the male characters in their lives take the traditional place of this same duo when the roles are reversed. This happens even in "Crouching Tiger", which I loved. But the guy who loved Zen was, well, so love stricken. His agency became wrapped around her just as Trinity's agency becomes wrapped around Neo.

This also happens in "La Femme Nikita" (though I remember "Point of No Return" better). Again, you have a male love interest, significantly weaker and having the same type of characterization one would normally see when the gender roles are reversed.

In "Hunger Games", we have these two guys who are so totally in love with Katniss, and both of them seem to have one true goal: to die for her. Katniss is basically the alpha male, and they're her groupies. Or her pride, maybe.

In "Fargo", the husband plays the traditional wife's role, even though the female sheriff is the one who's actually pregnant. But the husband tends the house, he paints, he cooks the meals, while she goes out and solves violent homicides.

It's like we have to have one or the other. A strong male attended to by a weaker, devoted female, or a strong female attended to by a weaker, devoted male.

Maybe I'm being too hard on this dichotomy, though. Relationships are power struggles where one person comes out on top. In healthy relationships, this reality isn't abused or exploited. In unhealthy ones, it is.

It's just the fact that too often, the males in these scenarios are so demasculated. It was one of the things I disliked about "Juno", which I found quite funny otherwise. But the writer wrote the male love interest of the independent female basically as if he was the girl. Which, as I write this, sounds awful, but I don't mean it as if it's bad to be a girl. But he is awful weak and subservient, a role traditionally given to women in fiction.

Come to think of it, I did this in my last novel, in which the increasingly powerful female main character has a boyfriend who's not only weak, but constantly derided by his friends for being weak.

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extrinsic
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Lisbeth Salander is her own agency for much of the narrative, novel or film. However, she is done to at first, victimized, undeserved. And her agency is not so much for herself, her personal crises and wants and problems, as it is for nobly others' crises. Though she has personal motivations and stakes and satisfactions all the while. Salander is a strong female deuteragonist to protagonist Mikael Blomkvist.
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Robert Nowall
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A lot of my lead characters have been female---but I don't know if I'd describe them as "strong." Probably all of them, male or female, are reflections of my self---and I'm stubborn and strong-willed but not strong in a conventional literary sense.
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Grumpy old guy
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Exactly extrinsic, I see Lisbeth as the avenging angel motif, but strong both within herself, despite what was done to her, and strong for others sakes. Hers is not a physical strength, nor is it an emotional or psychological one, it is, rather, strength of purpose. And, I find I use this motif a lot in my writing. My protagonists usually are confronted by something that offends their ideas of what is Just (capitalised on purpose) and this 'drives' them to redress the balance, come what may, be they man, devil or god.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
Salander is a strong female deuteragonist to protagonist Mikael Blomkvist.
I didn't like this novel, but you're right about this.

But where characterization is concerned, I think all of the characters in "Girl With a Dragon Tattoo" are flat. Definitely genre fiction. We have Mikael's mystery to solve, and we have Salander, who...I don't know. She's a moody, badass hacker in the beginning of the book, and she's a moody, badass hacker at the end of the book. There's no particular reason why she had to be a girl. And both of these main characters are essentially the same from the beginning of the book to its conclusion.

Mikael and Salander kind of remind me of James Bond and one of his female partners from the many Bond movies. Most of those women are smooth, confident, strong, and usually quite ready to sleep with Bond. And Bond is definitely not demasculated in the movie. They're willingness to sleep with Bond, though, is problematic to the strong character they're supposed to be portraying. You get the sense that everything these female counterparts bring to the movie have more to do with satisfying the male viewer's erotic fantasy than it does to genuinely creating a strong female character.

I read a devastating review of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" on Goodreads which made a similar point about Mikael and Salander. Plus, there was a weird fixation the author had of pointing out how childlike Salander appeared, juxtaposed to how much sex she had, and of course, was had onto her.

Arya Stark and the Hound from Book 3 of 'Game of Thrones' was a great matchup, though. I already said how much the writing fell off in Book 2 and 3, but their duo really made the narrative worthwhile. I wish Martin had written a novel just focusing on them. Or really, just her. Really a fantastic female character in an action/fantasy setting.

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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, are you falling for the commonly held, modern fallacy, which says that all characters in a narrative should grow and develop over the course of that self-same narrative? What about Cap’n Ahab or Ishmael in Moby Dick, they don’t essentially change, either one of them. In Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Salander HAS changed, the only difference is that the change occurred ‘off-stage’, in effect making her appearance in the narrative in medias res. Although, her interpersonal interactions with Blomkvist add testimony to that. Also, change does not have to be dramatic or obvious. Mikael Blomkvist undergoes a very subtle form of growth; the realisation that the world, and the people in it, aren’t/isn’t what he thought, a particularly profound realisation for someone in his profession.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
Denevius, are you falling for the commonly held, modern fallacy, which says that all characters in a narrative should grow and develop over the course of that self-same narrative?
Well, I try to refrain from absolutes, like 'all'. As a writer, you write what you can get away with, what gets the results you're satisfied with, and what your audience wants.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is an international bestseller, so obviously the author did something right. I just didn't like it.

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extrinsic
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Lisbeth Salander does mature, transform; she takes charge of her fiscal matters, fulfills an adult responsibility and duty she'd failed to fully realize priorly. The degrees she becomes fiscally independent, self-responsible, are on the exaggerated side though. She also finds she can love normatively, though Blomkvist crushes that love.

Blomkvist also matures a degree. He becomes less naive.

Subtle maturation is growth transformation enough for a completed action.

A strong character, male, female, or otherwise, is not per se one with strong personal agency. Strength of character in a literary sense is centrality to the transformation action and transformation change: hero, heroine, agonist, nemesis, or villain.

[ June 18, 2014, 04:44 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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Katniss does play the more typical alpha role while Peeta is more of a beta character. But Peeta does affect the plot in a way that Trinity doesn't. In the Hunger Games, His confession of loving Katniss in the interview was both a true confession and a savvy strategic move to keep both him and Katniss alive in the games as long as possible. This move greatly affects the plot, and Peeta's characterization of being clever and good at reading people was key to this move.

Gale is motivated by more than just saving Katniss. He is a minor character in the first book, but in the second and third books is shown to be revolutionist. He wants the districts to rebel while Katniss wants to find a way to just peacefully survive. She doesn't want a war. Gale does. He is an alpha character with goals that are in direct opposition to Katniss's. He is his own person with his own wants and desires beyond keeping Katniss safe, and actively pursues those goals.

I don't see either one of these characters as Trinity types. Although, I am sure that there are Trinity-male characters in female centered books and movies. Just not in the Hunger Game series.

[ June 18, 2014, 04:33 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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extrinsic
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Isn't Trinity's ultimate self-sacrifice a service for Zion more than for Neo? Is Trinity not transformed before the sacrifice so that she makes the sacrifice? Is she not of her own volition transformed from an isolated woman, self-isolated by her awesome abilities, into a fully integrated person? Is not her ultimate destiny of living by violence a violent death? Does not "fate" allow little time for much joy, happiness, or contentment before a new crisis intervenes? Does she not choose to go forth toward the tragic self-sacrifice wittingly? Rare to see a heroine suffer a tragic end too.
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Denevius
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I'll concede those points, MAP. But Peeta is the cook, which is normally the female's role. He's soft spoken, gentle, and prefers solving problems through dialog instead of action, again all typical female characteristics. And he becomes the "damesel in distress" in the games.

But yeah, I think you're right, especially about Gale, who's more focused on the revolution.

Throughout the series, however, Katniss keeps wondering why these guys love her the way they do. And actually, I kept wondering that. To me, it was the weakness of the series, as Katniss' inner monologue was completely unconvincing emotionally for either of the boys, though she was quite moving when it came to Rue, or Prim. Even her anger at her mother came across viscerally.

All the writing the author tried to put into her feelings to the boys came off as false to me, however, and yet they were still lovestruck over her.

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Isn't Trinity's ultimate self-sacrifice a service for Zion more than for Neo? Is Trinity not transformed before the sacrifice so that she makes the sacrifice? Is she not of her own volition transformed from an isolated woman, self-isolated by her awesome abilities, into a fully integrated person? Does not "fate" allow little time for much joy, happiness, or contentment before a new crisis intervenes? Does she not choose to go forth toward the tragic self-sacrifice wittingly? Rare to see a heroine suffer a tragic end too.

It's been a long time since I've seen this trilogy, so I could be wrong. I thought her final sacrifice was for Neo. I don't recall anything that suggested otherwise. I thought she was an awesome character in the first movie, but she kind of fades away and is lost in the following two movies other than being the motivation for Neo. I do remember her death falling flat for me, but I didn't like the last movie at all. I think she was under-utilized either way.

[ June 21, 2014, 12:50 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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MAP
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Yeah, there definitely was a gender role reversal of Katniss and Peeta. I also agree that the romances in Hunger Games series felt one-sided. Katniss was kind of cold to both of the boys both internally and externally. I think the author was trying to show her being in survival mode where she was protecting her heart from losses, but she was very emotionally attached to Prim, and Rue reminded her a lot of Prim.

I would have preferred Katniss to have stronger feelings for at least one of the boys too. The romance aspect kind of fell flat because of that.

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extrinsic
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The goal of the whole for The Matrix is saving Zion and humanity from the machines. An ensemble cast strives for that goal, throws Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Naomi, Tank, etc., into harm's way for that end. Though Hollywood places a man, of course, at center stage, Trinity's pursuit of the end is no less utilized, only progressively subtler, less overt, as befits womankind's multiple gaze binds and consequent subtler perceptions.

Everdeen's goal is similar: first save her sister, save herself, save District 12, overthrow the cruel leadership of the district system and not substitute an equally oppressive leadership for the old one. She remains foremost central to the action, though, self-actualized and proactive throughout.

Peeta and Katniss' makeups are well-developed for their "gender role reversals." Katniss' independence caused by the district system and an ineffectual mother, father long gone. Peeta's dependence by an overbearing mother and ineffectual father and the district system. Note also the subtle cues of their names. Peeta ends in A, a Latin genetive feminine inflection. Katniss', though, ends in I-S-S; I-S is a Greek feminine inflection.

Also, what kind of romantic savvy do teenagers have anyway? Katniss' sixteen-year-old distance toward boys is natural and developed by her isolation from normative dating practices. The boys' natural instincts are attraction to "suitable" mates. Katniss' reservations and wariness are natural too, wanting a mate equal to her circumstances.

[ June 18, 2014, 06:26 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Also, what kind of romantic savvy do teenagers have anyway? Katniss' sixteen-year-old distance toward boys is natural and developed by her isolation from normative dating practices.
Though this is true, it does seem like a bold gamble on the publishers part considering the previous YA hit featuring a female protagonist was "Twilight", which, to my understanding, couldn't be more sappy and romantic.

I can imagine "Hunger Games" being marketed to teen girls who absolutely hated "Twilight", though.

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extrinsic
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Hunger Games takes the same romance risks as Twilight: a young wallflower, ugly duckling, sleeping beauty abruptly becomes socially popular. Katniss, though, causes her popularity. Popularity happens to Bella Swan.
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MattLeo
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"Strong character" is one of those things like "sympathetic character"; we talk about these things like they describe the character, but what they really describe are a response readers have to a character. Making a character "strong" or "sympathetic" isn't like giving a character blue eyes or brown hair. It's a reflection of how the character functions in the story.

Failing to understand this leads to a kind of cargo-cult writing where you sit down to write a "strong female character", and recycle bits and pieces of characters who struck you as "strong". Or worse yet, approaching the phrase "strong female character" with boneheaded literalness, making her physically stronger and less vulnerable than anyone else. Characters need their vulnerabilities, their emotional ones especially. The strong characters we remember always have them, because that's how we connect to a strong character, through her vulnerabilities. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't have a perennially unfulfilled wish to fit in, she wouldn't be sympathetic; and she'd be strong in only the simple-minded sense.

The article hits the nail on the head, but doesn't give the solution a name. Well I will: agency.

A character who enters the story and changes things is automatically more interesting and engaging than one that's just there for decoration. The example I always use is Mattie from TRUE GRIT. She's sympathetic, and we like her, but not because she's likable; in fact she's a bit of a pill. But she comes in and shakes things up, and we're drawn to that.

The one exception I can think of to his is Ender, in ENDER's GAME, but that is a special case because the story is about the nature of agency and moral responsibility. Ender is engaging because he appears to take charge of any situation he's in. In fact he does, but those situations are contrived to manipulate him. But I think I'd stand my ground and say that Ender has agency. His presence shakes things up.

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JohnMac
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There's a LOT of good points....I'm printing this thread. My summation of the article sounds a lot like what someone else said about what makes a Science Fiction. To paraphrase (and I want to say this is it was Uncle Orson but I don't recall specifically): If the science isn't an integral part of the plot then it's not truly science fiction.

Likewise this article, succinctly: If the "strong female" could be replaced by anything other than a female and/or isn't significant to actually resolving the conflict, she's not a strong female.

Man, I had to read six pages to figure that out? Whatever happened to good journalistic practices? Oh yeah, it's a blog, nevermind. [Wink]

edit: clarity, typo

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
Why does it have to be a statement at all?

My sentiment exactly. I am exceedingly weary of "statements" about whatever, and they now tend to cause me to launch books on violent trajectories. And to quit paying money to that author.

quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Second time ever I've visited an unreadable website, the page content not displayed. Several HTML codes that are not cross application compatible are in the source code. Windows browsers may not display the page content. Speaking of biases.

My middle-aged Windows browser (SeaMonkey) had no trouble with it, but it does use some ugly combination of CSS and DIV tags. When you hit a page like that, turn off CSS and you'll have readable if disorganized text. Toggle CSS (and other nuisances like flash and JS) easily with PrefBar, which works with any of the Mozilla family (even when the browser whines "incompatible").
http://prefbar.tuxfamily.org

quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
It's like we have to have one or the other. A strong male attended to by a weaker, devoted female, or a strong female attended to by a weaker, devoted male.

I dislike this, but I think it's a side effect of "there can be only one" MC. Having multiple, equally important MCs is hard, and the effect, when I have seen it, is to dilute all of them. Usually some character has to be front and center by the nature of storytelling.

quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Maybe I'm being too hard on this dichotomy, though. Relationships are power struggles where one person comes out on top. In healthy relationships, this reality isn't abused or exploited. In unhealthy ones, it is.

I would posit that wherever there is a power struggle, the relationship (be that between individuals or planets) is at some level unhealthy.
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InarticulateBabbler
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I think it's fairly horsesh!t. This *movement* is a reflection of the current political climate. I've seen "strong female" defined as everything from role-reversal heroine to a plain woman with her own relationships. It's a straw man. Every time someone does something to kowtow to the current political literary demands (especially one about women FROM women) they can never succeed in any meaningful way. If a man writes a woman character well, it's: "What does a man know about being a woman? How arrogant!" Look at the results of the Nebula. It wasn't: "Finally, strong female characters!" but rather; "Yay! All women winners. Take that white men!" It's ridiculous.

It's become about something other than quality in fiction.

I don't believe it's about strong female characters at all. There are movies and books dedicated to the relationships and interests of women. No one clamors that there needs to be more men in them. As a matter of fact, I've never seen a number comparison there. Why would there need to be? Not very many men take those movies in. But, when you turn Spy Flicks into Chick Flicks solely for the diversity in character, you will really lose both demographics. Your audience will know. And that's, by and large, what I'm seeing. I have much more respect for the film who focuses on one woman and makes her exceptional, memorable and interesting to the whole audience than those who try to blend in a bland equality for the statistics or to prove they're PC. Contrivance is almost always disappointing.

Now, I'm not saying that you can't make interesting women characters abundant in something, but rather that it shouldn't be done just for that purpose. And for all the pointing and complaining about [/i]How to Train Your Dragon 2[/i] there is a fact which is overlooked: The movies are based on a series of books written by Cressida Cowell. Valka will be expanded upon, because there are at least two more movies (and a TV series) in the future. But, instead of giving the series time to explore Valka, there are only complaints. So, what do you think would have happened if it had been a muscular hero introduced? Exactly.

It's not about quality in fiction but forcing a political change and then [/i]enforcing[/i] it. There are already calls to arms (so to speak) about "people of color"--which really only refers to one color--and anything other than a straight-male PoV character. Politic. Nothing more.

I don't read for messages in my fiction. In fact, if I detect it becoming about a message, I'll probably drop it. I read to escape, not to be convinced by some contrived example.

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extrinsic
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A consensus emerged from this discussion that a strong female character role is one which influences change throughout a narrative--agency: no more, no less, and no different than strong male roles.

A polarized consensus among the public debate and a thread within this writing thread is female roles tend to be influential through male mediation of females' agency, hence, short on full and equal empowerment access and agency. The debate implies female characters' actualized agency separated from male character agency mediation is wanted by audiences generally and females specifically for the functions of influential role models.

A third consensus belief believes strong female roles emulate women's emerging empowerment, though short-shrifted application of the attendant duties, responsibilities, and obligations of empowerment side and strong on the rights and privileges and prerogatives of empowerment side.

Realization of the former, uniquely female duties, etc., is a direction society can and is headed toward. Literature has a duty to reflect and influence society. This discussion is a reflection of society and strives consciously or otherwise to influence society through literature, at least through enhancing writers' understanding of what features constitute a strong female character.

[ June 25, 2014, 09:30 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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Extrinsic, that was quite the measured reply to a somewhat combative post. InarticulateBabbler, your post was quite disheartening to read, from the comments about women to the one about:

quote:
It's not about quality in fiction but forcing a political change and then [/i]enforcing[/i] it. There are already calls to arms (so to speak) about "people of color"--which really only refers to one color--and anything other than a straight-male PoV character. Politic. Nothing more.
For a moment I felt like I stepped into a different website. I do realize, though, that there are many who feel like there isn't a deficit in literature when it comes to women, people of colour (though I *mean* more than one), and non-hetrosexual people, whether this deficit is in their appearance in literature, how they're construed in literature, the complexity of their character in literature, the effects they have on the central plot in literature, or their overall agency in literature.

In order to make this point, we can look at books we've read and see if the deficit is present or not. For example, you say:

quote:
I've seen "strong female" defined as everything from role-reversal heroine to a plain woman with her own relationships.
What examples do you have of this? Who are some of your favorite female characters, and why?
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by InarticulateBabbler:
Every time someone does something to kowtow to the current political literary demands (especially one about women FROM women) they can never succeed in any meaningful way.

I suspect I'm coming at this from a very different political place than you, but I actually mostly agree with this. Fitting characters to a political agenda usually doesn't work -- at least not for me. It doesn't matter if your agenda is left or right: when you are privileged to have a reader's eyeballs in your hands you should do something unexpected with them.

I'm talking about trying to write with *power*. And there actually is a certain power in being among the first to subvert a mindlessly mechanical stereotype of some group. But that power only exists in a narrow window of history. Uncle Tom is no longer a beloved character in our culture.

quote:

If a man writes a woman character well, it's: "What does a man know about being a woman? How arrogant!"

Oddly enough, I usually get the opposite reaction. When I entered the Amazon Breakthrough contest last year the reaction from women was "How is it that you understand the female perspective so well?" Well, I have absolutely no idea whether or not I understand the "female perspective"; in fact I treasure my ignorance on this point. It prevents me from doing silly things like trying to make a statement about what it means to be a woman. But I do know how to make a sympathetic protagonist.

It's like a magic trick; the illusion happens in the audience's heads. The French Drop illusion is credible because the audience imagines the coin into your right hand. The sympathetic character illusion works because the audience connects what the character is going through to their own experience. That won't happen if you hang a lot of baggage on the character they disagree with -- unless a particular audience member happens to see the world exactly the way you do.


quote:

I don't read for messages in my fiction. In fact, if I detect it becoming about a message, I'll probably drop it. I read to escape, not to be convinced by some contrived example.

I also sometimes detect political motifs creeping into my fiction; they aren't necessarily even positions I agree with, it just comes out of the plotting. But when I do find something potentially controversial I usually work to accentuate it, but also to shade it so the text has support for more than one view.

Confirmation bias is your friend here. People tend to latch on to information that confirms their beliefs, and ignore information that contradicts them. So if you treat a controversial issue evenhandedly, people on both sides will come away feeling they've had their world view confirmed. And if that sounds manipulative, hell yes it is!

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
I would posit that wherever there is a power struggle, the relationship (be that between individuals or planets) is at some level unhealthy.

On another hand, a society without struggles is stagnant, unnatural, unhealthy: dying or dead, and a dystopia with little to no drama appeals. When those struggles meaningfully and dutifully question and challenge presupposed notions of propriety warranting change and the dissent's means to the ends are proportionate and responsible, they may and oftentimes do persuade change. Violence, though, is always the last resort of an already lost struggle, antiviolence violence notwithstanding.
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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:
...your post was quite disheartening to read, from the comments about women...
The only comment I actually made about "women" (and not the commentary of a specific group of women that were so overtly anti-white male) was that some say (and I didn't actually attribute it) it's arrogant for a man to write a woman character. It wasn't actually negative. So, exactly what comments were your referring to "about women" that were "disheartening"? That's the kind of political crap I'm talking about. I wasn't talking about "women" as much as the "strong female characters" subject.

It's not my job to right the wrongs. It's not my job to hunt down every underrepresented faction in literature. I don't want that job, and I didn't ask for it. And I'm certainly not going to have it forced on me. I don't care if it's the popular sentiment. I'm an American because of unpopular speech, and stand by my right to it. As I said before, I read to escape, not to learn about the new crusades.

As for "people of color" I am directly related to this subject, and don't buy into it. The number of characters who are people of color, gay, or any other orientation are represented in a larger proportion than the actual audience percentage who read the genre, and are best represented by authors who know what the hell they are talking about. Do I think that's enough? Who am I to say? BUT, I can say, "That's not what I'm interested in reading," and, "who the hell are you to say any different?"

I read a lot. A lot! I read novels, short stories, blog posts and news. I like characters of all walks, but I don't read fiction that preaches it. I have books by Octavia Butler and Larry Correia, Heinlein and Kameron Hurley, Scalzi and Clarke, but I have diverse interests. I read a lot of military historical fiction, and write in that vein, too--and guess what you wouldn't see nearly as many of out on the battlefield throughout history? Now the lot that wants an equal number of women would clash pretty heavily with the lot that demands historical accuracy. But that doesn't matter to the political bullying machine.

Now, I probably should spend hours looking up all of the sources I have read in the last 6 months, but you know what, I'm not going to. I've already read them, and I don't have that kind of time on my hands. I work six days a week, until 3am, and have three kids--one of which is special needs--so, I've actually wasted more on this reply than I have used to advance my own writing (or the illustrations work I'm contracted for).

I work in an environment where I see most of the middle class and can observe them (as an outsider, because people tend to think of those in a service profession as mostly invisible--or to not even think of them) on an intimate level. I also see people of all colors, shapes, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. All things are not equal. People--aside from all of the claptrap about racism, sexism, religious oppression and any-other-misdirection the media can point to--have the same basic cares and worries and fears. A character is a construct, and if done well enough will transcend color, race or religion. The only reason I didn't include sex in that is because that would be the one thing that will always stand out if there is a love interest.

I'm not an apologist. I'm not going to should the responsibility for someone else. But, I think writing well rounded characters is what everyone is trying to do, but when you start talking about the amounts of ingredients in the recipe that has to be included, that is offensive.

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Denevius
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The central issue with your posts is how you've made them all about you and some injustice you perceive being heaped upon you, who I guess is part of the "white men" you mentioned earlier.

We're talking about writing, prose, craft, fiction, character, agency, plot, dialog, etc., and you're talking about how unfair the world is to you. You must say "I" about twenty times in the reply above.

Look, if you have some political injustice you simply feel the need to get off your chest, fine. But I don't think Hatrack is the place to do it. There's more than enough websites out there that are more than ready and willing to be receptive to all of your many concerns about your current victimized state in America.

However, why not stick to talking about fiction here? And if you don't have the time to do that, why respond at all? Again, there are plenty of sites that are more than ready and willing to engage you on all of your perceived social injustices of the white male.

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JSchuler
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quote:
Literature has a duty to reflect and influence society.
I think this formulation is wrong. Literature doesn't have a duty to reflect and influence society, instead literature does reflect or influence society. It is that property that distinguishes literature from pure pulp.

And I think this formulation is the cause of what bothers InarticulateBabbler. Authors are putting the cart before the horse and writing to make a statement, to be literature, rather than just telling a story, and through their mastery of the craft that story becomes literature. And if you go at writing from the direction of the former, you're tempted to compromise your work by catering to the culture of the publishing elite that has the resources to bestow awards and grant you the pedestal you seek.

Frankly, that's not a healthy thing for the genre.

That said, I do find the definition of a strong character (female or otherwise) being one that has agency to be proper.

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extrinsic
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Now why compromise a dynamic and robust writing discussion with social politics squabbles? Literary culture accommodates many diverse agendas; everyone has an agenda. No doubt about it. Literature happens to package diverse agendas each according to their own intents, meanings, messages, opinion positions, and audiences, no matter whether they mutually exclude or broadly appeal, argue for or against any point, or glorify or condemn.

Packaging a political post here at Hatrack is a required matter of relating the political opinion position to writing as the foreground topic: by example, by illustration, by demonstration, by explanation of and for a writing principle, not as a political opinion position statement as the foremost point.

[ June 25, 2014, 09:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
quote:
Literature has a duty to reflect and influence society.
I think this formulation is wrong. Literature doesn't have a duty to reflect and influence society, instead literature does reflect or influence society. It is that property that distinguishes literature from pure pulp.
Literature has a duty to and does reflect and influence society and, third if not more, form follows function, appreciating the social functions of literature's forms, aid a writer's expression. Maybe, though, too many directions toward and from an origin at once cause difficult challenges for struggling writers.

I have yet to read a work labeled "pulp" that wasn't aesthetically comparable to otherwise works. They just happen to have not enjoyed equivalent interpretative method, message, intent, and meaning analysis scrutiny.

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Denevius
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quote:
Authors are putting the cart before the horse and writing to make a statement, to be literature, rather than just telling a story, and through their mastery of the craft that story becomes literature.
All literature is making a statement, so I'm not sure where you're going here. Some literature is making overt political, religious, and/or social statements, like Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles", Dickens "A Tale of Two Cities", Carson McCullers "The Heart is a Lonely Hunger", H.G. Welles' "1984". John Updikes' "The Jungle", Kafka's "The Trial". J.R.R. Tolkein was making a statement about industrialization in "The Lord of the Rings".

The list goes on, especially for classic literature. Of course authors are making a statement, that's what helps their books transcend from trite words on the page to something grand.

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MattLeo
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I have a strong mistrust of generalizations, because I can just about always find an exception to the rule.

"All literature is making a statement." This is a generalization I can believe, but only because "making a statement" is so unspecific it can be stretched to cover just about anything. The lyrics to the song "Baby Got Back" makes a statement about the poetic persona's appreciation for big butts.

"Literature has a duty to reflect and influence society." -- I can get behind that, as long it is not a generalization that all writers have to be grinding an ax all the time. If you have it in you to write something like Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE, I think you should go for it. But a writer who spends his entire career giving readers enjoyment has also done humanity a service.

I put a great deal of store in making things easy for the reader. But a lot of great writers don't do this. Joyce, as extrinsic pointed out. I've just finished David Lindsay's 1920 A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, which is quite deliberately obscure. You really can't understand what's going on until you've finished the whole thing. VOYAGE sold less than 600 copies then was out of print for fifty years, but few novels have been more influential in relation to their commercial success. It exercises a powerful fascination for a very small number of readers, including J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Clive Barker and Harold Bloom.

And I just got through saying above that characters built around political agendas don't work for me. But unfortunately for me that's a generalization all too easy to shoot holes in Plenty of novels have political axes to grind, and their characters are surely built around the novel's agenda.

I think a better way of putting it is that if the author has an agenda it shouldn't show. Instead the story should draw the reader in and do its dirty work without the reader noticing. And there's exceptions to that, stories where the author wears his heart on his sleeve but gets away with it because his vision is so beautiful or writing so persuasive.

There's really only one writing generalization I have complete confidence in: if you think you can get away with it, try it.

If you set aside your preconceptions you'll see that often things work that by all you believe in shouldn't. And that's interesting and worth pursuing. There's too much bloodless writing out there; that tries so hard to be prim and correct and conventional that sadly, it succeeds.

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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Literature has a duty...

Literature is an inanimate object. It has no duty. It cannot have a duty.
quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
All literature is making a statement...

Which is what I said. The problem is when the point of the work is to make a statement, rather than the statement being a side-effect of the work. When you try to cut straight to being literature, instead of focusing on story, you get books that deserve to and do nothing but gather dust on store shelves.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by JSchuler:
quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Literature has a duty...

Literature is an inanimate object. It has no duty. It cannot have a duty.
Concretely it is so, yet literature is a vigorously animated living being as ancient as humanity, from scratches in dirt to share directions to resources and cooperative briefings to electronic impulse bits and bytes expressing the many splendored human condition.
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Denevius
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quote:
The problem is when the point of the work is to make a statement, rather than the statement being a side-effect of the work.
Personally, I think the real "problem" isn't that fiction is attempting to make a statement, but when one vehemently disagrees with the statement a piece of fiction is attempting to make. This is what derailed a discussion about strong female characters. Most of us didn't even agree with the article in question, though some did.

Yet up until InarticulateBabbler offered his rant, we discussed writing and craft, and how it pertained to the article. Then IB comes in with his persecution complex and how, I guess, he feels his writing isn't getting a fair chance because the elite are forcing him (the presumed white male) to write about people of colour (but we know *which* colour-wink,wink), women, and gays.

And look, he can have his opinion, and he can discuss his opinion in length. Just why here, in a discussion that focused, again, on writing and craft, and the strengths and deficiencies of female characterization in fiction?

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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Concretely it is so, yet literature is a vigorously animated living being as ancient as humanity, from scratches in dirt to share directions to resources and cooperative briefings to electronic impulse bits and bytes expressing the many splendored human condition.

No, it's not a vigorously animated living being. Human beings are vigorously animated living beings, and it's human reaction to literature that expresses the human condition. If I were to somehow burn every copy of Shakespeare, it would not be literature that weeps for the loss, but man.

And this is the crux of my point: you cannot separate literature from man. You cannot actually write literature, because the nature of what is and is not literature is not something intrinsic to the story. Literature is found in the interaction between your story and the reader. If that interaction doesn't reflect or influence society, then it's not literature. If it does, then it is. There is no need for any sort of "duty." It does and it is, or it does not and it is not.

But in order to be literature, the story must be read.

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InarticulateBabbler
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Denevius, you don't have to agree with me. In fact, if you hadn't addressed me (which was a change of topic in the first place) with the intent of belittling my opinion by making me appear to have said something "about women" and not about the "agenda of forcing writers to include more of [your choice here]," I wouldn't have addressed you at all. And you are in no way discussing craft right now, you are on a crusade to discredit my opinion--claiming that it somehow derailed the topic. I believe the natural extension of this topic (which I have read so often of late) is the representation by number and PoV characters of other types based on the criteria in my original post.

How many times are you going to "assume" I'm "a white male", and what part of writing craft does my color involve? Or is this supposed to invalidate my opinion on what should be included or forced upon the craft I love?

Because you don't like my opinion on the matter (or the motivations behind it) doesn't make it a rant, nor does it disqualify the parts you fail to see (or choose not to validate) which are, in fact, ALL about writing. (I assumed you knew the difference, but apparently, I was wrong in that assumption. So, after this, I'll just treat your directed responses like those of my special needs son when he gets into fits. Ignore them.) The article itself was a political rant--a dig happening all-to-often lately--about the quality of a movie or book suffering because it does *not* include something or other. If you've been keeping up with this sort of thing (which I'm assuming you either haven't, or are a part of the apologist name-slinger movement who choose to obfuscate the truth in what is happening), you'd know that it is at the core of a huge rift in the writing community--and of little benefit to anyone. We've discussed here, more than once, how writing by committee weakens a story's effects.

It is *not* our duty to affect a change, though it is for many a hope. There are plenty of stories that have changed the way people think; some not for the better. But there are many more which are remembered because of the characters and *not* the message. (Do you honestly believe that people remember To Kill a Mockingbird because of the defendant or do you think Scout was the one people remembered most?) Any form of forcing a writer or group of writers to write a certain way is both a form of censorship and propaganda. In short, I don't see what's wrong with writing for your audience--no matter who that may be--and about subject matters you want to and not what a few critics think you should.

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